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The CPSR Newsletter


CPSR Reports on the FBI's National Crime Information Center

During the past two years, CPSR members Drs. Jim Horning,
Peter Neumann, and Dave Redell have
served on an expert panel established by Congressman Don
Edwards (D-San Jose) to review the
proposed expansion of the FBI's records system, the
National Crime Information Center (NCIC). An
extensive report was prepared by these CPSR members, along
with Janlori Goldman, an attorney with
the American Civil Liberties Union Project on Privacy and
Technology, and Diana Gordon, a professor of
sociology at the City University of New York. The report
was released in February. The report was
coordinated and edited by CPSR Washington office director
Marc Rotenberg and CPSR member Lenny
Siegel, who is director of the Pacific Studies Center in
Mountain View, CA, and co-author of the book,
The High Cost of High Tech. Just after the release of the
report, the FBI decided to drop a controversial
proposal that would have provided for computerized
"tracking" of crime suspects. Dave Redell testified
on behalf of CPSR before the House Subcommittee on Civil
and Constitutional Rights on May 18.
Excerpts from the expert panel's report are reproduced
here. Copies of the full report are available
from the CPSR National Office, P.O. Box 717, Palo Alto, CA
94302-0717, for $10 per copy
(California residents please add sales tax).


The FBI's proposal to redesign the National Crime
Information Center (NCIC) represents a potentially
serious risk to privacy and civil liberties. Basic
principles of computer security and reliability have
been overlooked in the redesign process. Certain proposed
changes, most notably the creation of
tracking files, pose insoluble problems and will be of
limited value to law enforcement. The proposal
also fails to adequately address long-standing problems
with data quality. In addition, the proposal does
not assess the implications of the increasing use of
criminal history records for non-law enforcement

Decisions about the operation of the NCIC have far-reaching
implications for law enforcement practice
throughout the country and for the rights and civil
liberties of all Americans. The NCIC is the nation's
most extensive computerized criminal justice information
system. It consists of a host computer at FBI
headquarters in Washington, DC, dedicated
telecommunications lines, and a coordinated network of
and federal criminal history information systems. The
system contains approximately 20 million
records on wanted or missing persons, stolen property, and
criminal histories. Data is exchanged by
over 64,000 federal, state, and local criminal justice
agencies through state and local computer
systems. The NCIC answers about 750,000 inquiries per day.
The system works nearly
instantaneously. In some jurisdictions, it is accessible to
officers in patrol cars through mobile

Technical Overview

The NCIC 2000 proposal touches on a central question of our
criminal justice system: What is the
proper balance between the legitimate needs of law
enforcement and the constitutional rights of

No thoughtful observer would wish to deny appropriate tools
to the criminal justice community. At the
same time, however, any combination of massive volumes of
sensitive information, powerful
computers, and transcontinental data networks must be
viewed as a potential threat to privacy,

due process, separation of powers, and other vital
principles of law and our system of government.
Experience demonstrates that where information is simply
moved unchanged into a computerized
system, there may be serious, unanticipated consequences.
Adding new information or new capabilities
for processing and communication further amplifies this
problem. The accelerating development of
technology and its application to law enforcement thus
require constant attention to maintain the
delicate balance between users' needs and citizens' rights.

There are two kinds of trade-offs in NCIC 2000. Some trade-
offs, representing inherent tensions
between the interests of the parties involved, are
essentially independent of the technological design.
For example, systems like the NC IC cause citizens to be
followed by their criminal records wherever
they go. This undercuts a chance to start over

Some of the underlying questions about the NCIC remain
unanswered. The Bureau has never
demonstrated the scientific adequacy of the system for
reducing criminal activity. Moreover, from a
management viewpoint, we should know whether this is an
effective use of scarce criminal justice
resources.Ñ Kenneth Laudon, Professor of Information
Systems at New York University with a clean
slate in a new location. One can make cogent arguments on
both sides of such questions, but ultimately,
the balance between such inherently conflicting goals must
be struck on the basis of social, rather than
technological considerations.

In many other cases, however, the technological issues play
a more central role. Technological issues
influence the social impact of the NCIC, and similar
computerized information systems, in many subtle
ways, but there are two primary effects. First, there are
areas in which the application of the best
available technology is essential to attain such project's
multiple goals. In these cases, flawed system
design can introduce conflicts that could otherwise be
avoided. Moreover, such design flaws are often so
deeply embedded in the resulting system that by the time
their impact is appreciated, it may be
effectively impossible to rectify them. For example, in the
absence of solid security underpinnings in
computer operating systems (in hardware and low- level
software), no amount of care at later stages is
sufficient to avoid pervasive conflict between the desire
to maximize the utility of the system and the
need to guarantee the confidentiality and integrity of the
sensitive data it contains.

Second, there are definite limitations to what can be
achieved with even the best state-of-the-art
system design. Some of these limitations are inherent and
cannot be overcome, while others represent
difficult research questions that cannot currently be
answered. In either case, however, the impact is
the same: The limitations must be recognized and the trade-
offs they imply must be faced. For example,
given current or foreseeable technology, there is simply no
way to establish with any certainty that a
system on the scale of the NCIC is free of security flaws.
This sobering fact must be taken into account
when deciding whether to store extremely sensitive
information in the system. The resulting trade-off
between increased system utility and adequate protection of
information is based on a technological
problem, but no technological solution is likely to be
available. Such trade-offs must be decided as
matters of policy, even though they are based on
technological limitations.

Sound Principles of Database Management Stressed

While sound principles of database management should apply
to any information system, the social
impact of a criminal justice information system make it
particularly important that the new NCIC
incorporate such principles. Advances in computer
technology can be used to improve security,
accountability, and data quality. But system administrators
and managers carry the ultimate
responsibility to ensure that the system is well designed
and properly maintained.


Though recent, highly publicized incidents have underscored
the vulnerability of computer systems and
networks to unauthorized intrusion, the concept of computer
security is much broader. Not only must
each person who logs onto the system be positively and
uniquely identified as an authorized user each
time he or she makes a query or enters data, but the user
must present credentials that authorize
access to each specific file. Even within files, the
privileges for entering and viewing (or downloading)
information should be separately assigned. In addition, all
connections that might allow users to alter
software or erase audit trails must be eliminated.

Such a security structure guards not only against hostile
activity, but it reduces the chance of file
misuse by careless or inadequately trained personnel.


In most computer systems, including the NCIC, authorized
users, not hackers or intruders, pose the
greatest threat of data alteration, destruction, or misuse.
System security, therefore, means little
without a clear and well established program of system
accountability. Audit trails, in which all entries
and queries are logged automatically, discourage improper
use, particularly if users are required to
identify themselves for each transaction. In addition, such
logs allow the system operator to determine
the source of inaccurate or incomplete information, making
it easier to identify other, similar errors
and develop mechanisms for preventing future problems.
Audit trails can also be used to help determine
whether any particular individual or agency is
systematically downloading information for
unauthorized purposes, such as transfer to private
detective agencies.

The FBI has made significant progress in the creation of
audit trails, and NCIC 2000 may improve
accountability further. But accountability is virtually
useless unless accompanied by unique,
individual user identifiers. Police officers in the field
and law enforcement clerks must understand the
risks of casual security practices, such as the sharing of
access codes.

Strong security and accountability procedures discourage
system misuse only if they are backed up
with corrective action. Auditing, security monitoring, and
other system evaluations should be handled
by an office that operates independently of the FBI. That
office should have the power to insist upon
changes in design, procedure, or personnel.

Data Accuracy and Reliability

Building a secure procedure for individual accountability
into the system should improve the accuracy
of records, since it will be possible to identify the
source of incorrect information. The FBI appears
satisfied with its error prevention measures, but they are
insufficient. Serious errors have happened,
and they are likely to occur in the future. The NCIC 2000
study omits what should be the keystone of
any data reliability program, a procedure by which subjects
of NCIC files can check and request
correction of their records. This task should be assigned
to a data integrity office responsible for
monitoring the reliability of the system as a whole, since
single flaws may help ferret out systemic
problems. The data integrity office can then order the
correction, clarification or removal of records on
individuals who lack the knowledge or resources to pursue
legal remedies.

Individual access should be limited, by law, to the subject
and his or her representative. In particular,
employers who are not explicitly entitled under current law
to obtain access to criminal history files
should not be able to require that job applicants obtain
and submit their own NCIC records.

Out-of-date information and inaccurate information should
be identified and entirely removed. For
example, the NCIC should have the capability to ensure that
a record is removed as soon as the subject
is arrested or the stolen property is recovered.

Furthermore, a suitable security procedure should allow
each class of users to perform searches
appropriate for their needs. For example, the proposal to
expand the name search criteria may make
sense for queries made by detectives. An investigator
following a lead could receive from NCIC a list of
individuals whose names resemble the one he or she enters.
But it is potentially dangerous to supply
patrol officers with a similar list of non-exact matches,
some of which may lead the officer to expect
violence but most of which are wrong.

Finally, miscellaneous data fields, that is, blank lines
without clearly defined purposes not belong on a
system with a broad and varied user base, such as the NCIC.
They permit the entry of data that cannot be
verified and increase the likelihood of misinterpretation.
Yet the NCIC 2000 includes a proposal to
expand the size of the miscellaneous field.

Problems with Tracking Proposal

The initial MITRE report included several new files to be
used to track individuals under investigation,
but not sought for arrest for drug trafficking, murder or
kidnapping, organized crime, arson,
terrorism, and foreign intelligence activity, as well as a
catch-all "Capability to Track the Movement
of a Subject." Under these proposals, subjects of
investigations would be listed on an index in the NCIC.
Any subsequent query on such a person would generate a
notice to the investigating agency, identifying
the current location of the person. The APB (the FBI's
Advisory Policy BoardÑed.) approved the
tracking for suspects in drug crimes and murder or
kidnapping cases, but it recommended against the
others, at least for now.

These files, as now described, would include a "silent hit"
feature, in which the system user, such as a
patrol officer, who initiates an inquiry would not be told
that the subject of the inquiry is also under
investigation for drug trafficking, murder, or kidnapping.
Only the agency that entered the subject in
the investigative file would be informed of the query; the
agency that created the record would have the
option of contacting the inquiring officer for further
information on the encounter. The proposals do not
indicate whether FBI personnel would have access to the
names indexed in the files.

Silent hits are in theory less invasive, since only the
agency that creates the investigative record
knows whom it has named. However, even if the silent hit
proposal is implemented, officers could learn
of the existence of an investigation in another agency. For
example, by entering a query on a particular
individual, an officer would trigger a contact from the
investigator who created the original record.

In addition, pressure from local law enforcement officials,
who want to know if the persons their
officers stop pose a serious threat, may force the
abandonment of the silent hit feature. Similar
pressure prevented the implementation of a silent hit
mechanism that was originally proposed for the
Secret Service file described in Chapter 2. The addition of
investigative files would dramatically change
the NCIC system. It would turn the NCIC from a public
record system, which collects and disseminates
information already available to the public, into a
surveillance system. Such files are not authorized by
statute and raise serious constitutional issues. While it
may be proper for investigative agencies to
share information about suspected lawbreakers on a limited
basis, the proposed tracking files would
allow agencies to use the system to track the movements of
a vast number of individuals under
investigation. The proposed files lack objective standards
for adding or deleting information. Setting and
enforcing an objective national standard would require
direct Federal supervision of investigative

Our field research, as well as interviews with law
enforcement officials and investigators, suggests
that the limited utility of the proposed investigative
files is outweighed by the problems they are likely
to create. Most of the officials that we interviewed, other
than members of the APB, do not share the
APB's view that the addition of an investigative file would
be a key resource for successful
investigations of multi-state offenders. If such a central
rationale for the investigative files is not
accepted, then it is important to ask whether there is a
necessary law enforcement purpose that would
justify their implementation.

Not only are the risks of adding the two tracking files
great, the potential benefits to law enforcement
appear to be limited. At best, routine NCIC queries would
provide only occasional contact with listed
individuals. Investigators may have difficulty locating the
inquiring officer, and that officer may not
remember the encounter with the subject (which may have
been a routine traffic stop). Even if the
officer does remember, the encounter may produce nothing of
investigative significance, and the
subject may not be easily located. Investigators thus may
waste time tracking down random encounters
unrelated to their investigations.

On the other hand, tracking files could be the basis for an
increase in the routine questioning of
individuals, in circumstances where there is no
particularized suspicion of criminal activity.

In the long run, these tracking files would become a
precedent for other similar files. Throughout the
NCIC 2000 process, many law enforcement officials have said
that they would like to implement a wide
range of tracking files but fear that creating them now
would backfire politically. Just as the Secret
Service successfully cited the assassination attempt
against President Reagan as justification for its
tracking file, proponents of new files will select areas of
crime where there is widespread public
concern. The drug trafficking file was among the first to
be proposed, precisely because of that concern.
If another issue similarly captures the attention of the
media and the public, there will be calls for a
tracking file in that area.

In establishing automated files with no objective criteria
or legal process for including names, the
tracking files would open the door to the surveillance of
political dissidents, as did the Stop Index,
which was discontinued in 1974. This is the most
significant and most dangerous consequence of
adopting the tracking proposals.

The Importance of State and Local Systems

It became clear from our research that there is a wide
variety of state and local computerized criminal
justice information systems. Some of these systems provide
information to the NCIC. The security,
accountability, and reliability of the NCIC are only as
good as the state and local criminal justice
information systems that are linked to it. The new NCIC
design can limit the risk posed by improper
design or practice at the state and local level, and the
FBI can identify problems arising from specific
linked agencies. But state and local systems follow
conflicting, and often inadequate standards, and are
governed by state and local authority.

Other state and local systems are not linked to the NCIC
and contain information different from that in
the NCIC. Many of the same security, accuracy and
reliability risks associated with the NCIC exist in
these state and local systems. State and local systems are
used more often than the NCIC, and they
contain more records. California, for example, has about
sixty criminal justice data banks containing
about 40 million records. Some of these state systems are
already used for tracking criminal suspects.

State and local systems have fewer built-in safeguards,
such as auditing programs, than the FBI. Many
states also lack data integrity offices. In fact, state and
local systems are rarely subject to the level of
oversight that the NCIC receives from the House
Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights of the
United States Congress.

Our review of the NCIC 2000 provides a framework for
developing a similar review process for state
and local criminal justice information systems. But this is
just a starting point; there needs to be
systematic review and oversight, by state officials outside
of the criminal justice system, of each
database in the United States that contains criminal
justice information.


The FBI must address the issues raised here before
proceeding to expand the NCIC system. Some of our
concerns are so fundamental that they must be addressed in
the system architecture, not appended later.
Other concerns are probably beyond reliable resolution,
suggesting that certain proposed concepts
should be excluded altogether.

A system with thousands of terminals and potentially
several hundred thousand users is inherently
vulnerable to unauthorized use. Even if the FBi were to
adopt ideal standards for system security and
user accountability, the threat of a serious security
breach remains. Audit trails, designed to enhance
system security, can nonetheless be erased and records
could be changed without authorization.
Subjects of confidential investigations could be identified
and investigations could be compromised.
People whose names do not belong in the investigative files
could end up there through accident or even
deliberate, malicious action, while those that should be
listed could be removed. Confidential
information does not belong in a system designed for the
widespread dissemination of public record

We believe that improved NCIC accuracy, security,
accountability, and data reliability would help
protect the constitutional rights of Americans while at the
same time improving the system's value to
law enforcement officers and investigators.

CPSR's work on the NCIC was very generously supported by
the J. Roderick MacArthur Foundation, the
C.S. Fund, the Youth Project, the Deer Creek Foundation,
and many contributions from CPSR members
and friends. Also, CPSR offers thanks to Dr. Mary Karen
Dahl, former CPSR National Program
Associate, who originally supervised the NCIC project and
gave it much of its early momentum.

This report is top-rate. This is a careful and well-
documented discussion of some of the computer
security and privacy concerns the FBI's original proposal
failed to address.ÑFred Wood, Project
Manager, Congressional Office of Technology Assessment

CPSR's Report on the NCIC in the News

Stories on the CPSR NCIC project appeared in newspapers and
magazines across the country:

"Proposed FBI Crime Computer System Raises Questions on
Accuracy, Privacy: Report Warns of
Potential Risk Data Bank Poses to Civil Liberties."ÑThe
Washington Post, February 13, 1989.

"Panel Protests Crime Computer Expansion"ÑThe Seattle
Times, Feb. 13, 1989.

"FBI Suspect Tracking Plan Draws Protest."ÑThe Los Angeles
Times, February 13, 1989.

"FBI Plan Faulted As Rights Threat: Group Concerned About
Using Computers to Track People Who Are
Only Suspects."ÑThe New York Times, February 14, 1989.

"Panel Wants Suspect-Tracking System Scuttled."Ñ Federal
Computer Week, February 20, 1989.

"NCIC Tracking Proposal is Flawed, Panel Says."Ñ Government
Computer News, February 20, 1989.

"FBI Rejects Computer Use on Suspects: Plan Would Have
Allowed Tracking Those Not Charged with a
Crime."ÑThe Washington Post, March 3, 1989.

"FBI Rejects Plan to Widen Computer's Data on Suspects"ÑThe
New York Times, March 4, 1989.

CPSR Testifies on NCIC Before House Subcommittee

On May 18, 1989, the House Subcommittee on Civil and
Constitutional Rights held a hearing on the
FBI's Technical Services Division, with major emphasis on
the NCIC 2000 Project. The recent joint
study done by CPSR and the ACLU was a major topic during
the hearing, and four members of the study's
expert panel gave testimony before the committee.

The hearing was chaired by Congressman Don Edwards (D-San
Jose), who had originally asked CPSR to
participate in the expert panel that produced the study
report. Also present during various portions of
the hearing were committee members Robert Kastenmeier (D-
WI), Patricia Schroeder (D-CO), James
Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Craig James (R-FL). Majority
Counsel James Dempsey and Minority
Counsel Coleen Kiko also attended and questioned the

The hearing was organized as two panels. The first
consisted of four representatives from the FBI:
William Bayse (Assistant Director) David Nemecek (NCIC
chief), Kier Boyd and Edward Ludemann. Mr.
Bayse presented prepared testimony describing NCIC 2000 and
several other technical thrusts by the
FBI, including extensive pilot programs using expert system
technology to aid in criminal
investigations. The three pilots, called Big Floyd, OBR-III
and Tiger Paw are a major priority of Mr.
Bayse's division, and would appear to be an appropriate and
timely subject for a new CPSR initiative.
Mr. Dempsey has stated his intention to provide CPSR with
the available material on these programs to
help catalyze such a study.

Mr. Bayse's remarks on NCIC 2000 were primarily a
restatement of the position enunciated in
February of this year by FBI Director William Sessions. Mr.
Bayse said that the MITRE study on the
NCIC 2000 has produced a sufficiently concrete
architectural specification for implementation to
proceed. The technical design is to include all
capabilities ("user concepts") finally approved by the
FBI Advisory Policy Board, with the exception of the
Investigative/Tracking files, which Director
Sessions eliminated from the project, in large part due to
the objections raised by the Subcommittee,
CPSR and the ACLU. Mr. Bayse also addressed specifically
the implications of the recent Supreme Court
decision in the Reporters Committee case, in which the
court held that general public access to criminal
history records under the Freedom of Information Act
represented an unacceptable intrusion into the
privacy rights of record subjects.

The second panel consisted of Janlori Goldman of the ACLU,
Diana Gordon of City College of New York,
Dave Redell of CPSR/Palo Alto and Marc Rotenberg, director
of the CPSR Washington office and the
CPSR Computing and Civil Liberties Project. Goldman
testified on the concerns voiced in the panel
report about security and data quality, and also discussed
the Reporters Committee decision and a new
proposal to list material witnesses in the NCIC wanted-
person file. She stated the ACLU's firm
opposition to the McCollum amendment, adopted in the last
Congress, which would mandate online access
by all gun dealers nationwide to the NCIC criminal history
files. This legislation raises extensive
problems in both policy and implementation.

Dinni Gordon summarized the results of her pilot field
studies of NCIC use, in which she and a research
assistant interviewed NCIC users in several states and
accompanied patrol officers in their cars to
observe NCIC use. The study was very preliminary, but the
results suggest that the reported high
volumes of NCIC transactions (now about 1 million per day)
are hard to reconcile with the observed
level of usage in actual patrol operations, which seemed
surprisingly low. Gordon also reported on some
skeptical attitudes on the part of NCIC users especially
the actual investigators as opposed to their
managementÑabout data quality and security problems, and
the overall utility of NCIC to daily police
work. She stated that her preliminary results suggested the
need for a much larger independent survey
of NCIC usage to assess the actual benefits of further
system expansion.

Dave Redell presented a summary of the main technical
points of the report regarding security, data
quality, accountability, audit trails and database linkage.
He also discussed some risks from the
proposed addition of scanned images to NCIC 2000,
especially if mobile unit input of images is linked to
automatic photo identification, i.e., mug-shot matching by

The hearings represented a significant milestone in CPSR's
growing involvement with the Congressional
process. Congressman Edwards expressed his appreciation for
CPSR's role and said that he would
definitely be calling on us in the future for technical
advice on civil liberties issues.

Findings of the Expert Panel on NCIC 2000

(1 ) Sound principles of database management, including
security, accountability, accuracy, and
reliability, must be followed in the design of the NC IC to
protect the rights of Americans, as well as to
serve proper law enforcement interests.

(2) A data integrity office, independent of the FBI, should
be established to monitor security, accuracy,
and reliability of the NCIC, and to provide subjects of
NCIC files the opportunity to correct errors;
additional procedures should be adopted to improve data

(3) Non-public record information, such as investigative
files or indexes designed to track suspects,
should not be included in the NCIC.

(4) The proposed tracking files may be of limited utility
to state and local law enforcement officials.

(5) The FBI lacks statutory authority for the proposed
addition of the tracking files.

(6) On-line linkages to other information systems should
not be established unless the networked
systems meet sufficient standards of security,
accountability, accuracy, and reliability, and the data
transfer satisfies the intent of the Privacy Act of 1974,
that information collected for non-law
enforcement purposes should not be made available to law
enforcement agencies without a
particularized need.

Two issues not originally considered by the FBI in the
MITRE proposal were identified as requiring
further study:

Considering the rapid development of networked criminal
justice information systems, state and local
law enforcement information systems should be reviewed by
state officials, outside of criminal justice
agencies, to determine the adequacy of security, accuracy,
integrity, and reliability.

The growing use of the criminal history records network,
including the possible use of the NCIC's
Interstate Identification Index (111), for employment and
licensing purposes is changing the character
and use of criminal justice information systems and should
be more carefully examined, particularly
with regard to the ability of the end- users to interpret
and use fairly information that is often
incomplete or inaccurate.

Cliff Johnson Files New Lawsuit on Launch-on-Warning

On May 1, 1989, Dr. Clifford Johnson of CPSR/Palo Alto
filed in the U.S. District Court in San Jose,
California, a new lawsuit challenging the legality of the
nuclear command and control system. In
previous litigation, Johnson sued then Secretary of Defense
Caspar Weinberger, alleging that the U.S.
nuclear "launch-on-warning" policy was dependent on error-
prone computers that could trigger an
accidental nuclear launch. He alleged that this usurped the
power of the Congress to declare war and of
the President to command the armed forces, besides
threatening his own life. That case was dismissed
last year primarily on the ground that "inferences based on
Department of Defense policy are, at best,
speculative." The Court indicated that had the directly
responsible military officers been named as
defendants, the injury might be actionable.

Accordingly, the new case sues General Chain, the Commander
In Chief of the Strategic Air Command,
and his Minuteman/MX chain of command, right down to the
missile combat crews. This time Johnson
challenges not only launch-on-warning, but also preemption
(or first strike) and `'launch-on-
impact." In particular, he directly attacks the defendants'
standing orders to launch Minuteman/MX
missiles immediately upon receipt of an exclusively
executive launch order, even in peacetime. These
standing orders, he alleges, are inherently and recklessly
dangerous. The defendants "know or plainly
should know" that it would be illegal for them to execute
such a launch order, the filing papers say, and
so their duty would be to disobey such a launch order.
Because of this, their present duty is to revoke
the standing orders.

There are four counts, each of which is based on alleged
violations of both constitutional and
international law. The first count applies the laws that
only the Congress may declare war, and that no
nation may jeopardize the peace. The second count
challenges nuclear first use, applying the laws that
only the Congress may qualitatively expand war, and that
first use is in any case a disproportionate
response. The third count alleges that the standing orders
amount to an intolerable imposition of
nonrepublican government by machine. The fourth count
challenges secret but circumstantially
provable delegations of nuclear launch authority to the

Johnson admits that he is returning to the trial court
without much hope of final success of that level,
but with the primary purpose of developing a complete
record prior to asking the Supreme Court to
review his litigation, which he commenced in 1984. The
Executive Committee of the Board of Directors
of CPSR has endorsed the new action, as it has endorsed the
prior lawsuits.

A Look at Computers in the Soviet Union Gary Chapman CPSR
Executive Director

There is a story in the Soviet Union that a factory that
made pants was directed to maximize its output
and the use of material in order to meet the requirements
of the Five Year Plan. Thereafter, the factory
only made pants in size 60.

Soviet humor, probably the blackest in the world,
invariably needles the economic system. A man
buying a car, a standard joke goes, is told it will be
delivered in ten years. "In the morning or the
afternoon?" he asks. The government auto representative is
astonished. "What difference does it make,
ten years from now?" The man replies, "The plumber is
coming in the morning."

The Soviet economic system would be comical if it were not
so tragic for the people who live in that
country. In the U.S. we hear about chronic food shortages
and long lines to buy things, but it is another
thing to sit and talk with a young Soviet woman who is
exhausted because she has spent the entire day
looking for and then buying a single container of cooking
oil. I am told that people who live on Sakhalin
Island, which is perhaps 50 kilometers from Japan, must
travel through Moscow in order to get to
Tokyo, which adds about 20,000 kilometers to their trip,
for no other purpose than to get a
bureaucratic stamp in their passports. There are reports
that fully a third of the food in the Soviet
Union is lost between the farm and the market. And I have
also heard that at any given time, officials can
not account for the whereabouts of about a third of the
railroad cars in the country.

The Soviet people are, for the most part, under few
illusions about the source of their woes. A common
opinion in the country is that "a sardine is a whale that
has undergone all phases of the Five Year Plan."

In April I travelled to the Soviet Union to see how
computers fit into the baffling and maddening Soviet
system. Computers are often seen as the paradigmatic
representation of rationality. How would these
machines fit into a society that is so profoundly
irrational? What would be the result of the collision of
computers and the Soviet system?

I spent a little over two weeks in the country, primarily
in Moscow and Leningrad, with my colleagues
and friends, Sherry Turkle and Esther Dyson. Sherry, a
member of the CPSR National Advisory Board,
is a professor of sociology at MIT, and author of the well
known book, The Second Self: Computers and
the Human Spirit. Esther is one of the more famous oracles
of the microcomputer business. She is the
editor and publisher of the highly respected industry
newsletter Release 1.0, and she writes columns
for Forbes and PC Computing. Esther is ubiquitous at
computer conferences, fairs, trade shows, and
workshops, and she was a panelist at the 1988 CPSR Annual
Meeting. She is also a lifetime CPSR
member. [Esther Dyson's version of the trip was the cover
story in the June 12, 1989 issue of

We were hosted in the Soviet Union by a group called the
International Computer Club, which just
formed late in 1988. The mission of ICC is to promote the
use of computers in the Soviet Union. It is a
non-governmental organization, but it has substantial and
useful ties to many of the top institutions and
people in the field of computers, science, and technology.
We were accompanied on most of our activities
by either the ICC Deputy Director, Levon Amdilyan, or by
the head of their international section, Sergei
Ulin. Both Levon and Sergei were in their late 30's, and
clearly they are young men on the fast track.
Both spoke English very well. They were both very charming,
and they were workaholicsÑit was
common for us to see them very early in the morning and
very late at night, and we were not the only
delegation for which they were responsible.

The connections of the people in ICC were formidable enough
to provide us with some unique and
unforgettable experiences. We were the first Americans ever
received at the Soviet Institute for
Applied Mathematics, for example, which until recently was
so secret the Soviets did not even admit its
existence. We were also the first Americans to visit the
Soviet Institute of Social Informatics, which
was set up recently to study the social impact of computer
technology in the country. One afternoon we
were rushed into a beautiful, pre-revolutionary Belle
Epoque mansion in Moscow to find several
hundred computer enthusiasts who had been waiting half an
hour for us to show up and say something to
them. Immediately after that event we were featured on
Soviet national television on a program called
"Dialogue With The Computer," which I understand is very
popular despite its title. Finally, perhaps
most importantly, we were taken to the ancient Russian city
of Suzdal, about 200 kilometers northeast
of Moscow, to attend a conference of officials who had
assembled to discuss what we were there to study:
how the Soviet Union should computerize. This conference of
about 300 delegates was a fascinating
opportunity to talk to people from all over the Soviet
Union about computerization. We were also asked
to give short talks to the audience. Esther very bravely
gave her speech in Russian.

Over the course of our visit we met with a wide range of
people, including bureaucrats and officials,
scientists, engineers, computer programmers, human rights
activists, members of cooperatives, new
Soviet entrepeneurs, employees of joint U.S.-Soviet
ventures, teachers, students, journalists,
publishers, and many others. It seemed we were constantly
rushing from one appointment to another,
typically late, and every person we talked with seemed to
have in mind five more we would absolutely
have to see before we left. Some of the most interesting
people we spoke with we met by accident. Our
appointments ranged from stiff, formal dialogues at the
institutes to free, candid, intense and
memorable sessions late into the night with people that we
will no doubt consider friends from now on.
It was only near the end of our stay that we realized that,
even though our hotel in Moscow was right
next to Red Square, not one of us had found the time to see
what's inside the Kremlin walls.

Automation vs. Informatizatsiya

Soviet computerization is receiving a lot of attention in
the West these days, and there is a virtual
parade of Western computer specialists and business people
through Moscow. There are a number of
reasons for this. Most prominently, for better or for worse
and correctly or not, computers are viewed
around the world as the key technology for future economic
productivity and international
competitiveness, not to mention military superiority. The
Soviet economy, while enormous in terms of
sheer output, is relatively untouched by the changes that
have taken place in Western economies in the
last fifteen years, those changes that are largely
attributed to the phenomenal spread of computing and
other information technologies. There are reportedly only
about 200,000 personal computers in the
Soviet Union, for example, while there are 50 million in
the United States alone. That means that there
is one computer for about every eight people in the U.S.,
while the Soviet Union has one computer for
about every 1,400 people. The majority of Soviet citizens
have never seen a computer.

The Soviet Union is obviously in the midst of historic
change. Gorbachev and his supporters are trying
to push and shove the Soviet Union into the modern age. The
Soviet government has said many times that
computers and computerization are an essential part of
perestroika, and the government estimates that
they need about 20 million computers right now. American
business leaders see a huge potential market
in the Soviet Union since the Soviets themselves seem
incapable of producing reliable and state-
of-the-art computers for their own use. The Soviet Union is
also a fascinating laboratory case for the
social impact of computers. Will computerization of the
Soviet Union tend to reinforce the power of an
oppressive state, or will the proliferation of computers be
a means for increasing democratic
communication that threatens that state?

The turbulent scene of domestic change in the Soviet Union
also takes place in the international
atmosphere of what we hope are the closing days of the Cold
War. Officials of the U.S. Department of
Defense have successfully imposed highly restrictive trade
embargoes on many types of Western
computer technology in order to restrain the technological
development of Soviet military hardware.
But American business leaders are increasingly annoyed by
these trade restrictions because they
inhibit the sale of technology that is used for non-
military purposes, and they increase costs to U.S. and
European manufacturers while other countries take advantage
of the Soviet market. For example, it is
illegal for a U.S., Japanese, or West European country to
sell 80386-based technology to the Eastern
bloc, but the Soviets can buy 386 PCs from Singapore,
India, or Taiwan. The Soviets are even
developing the beginnings of trade relations with South
Korea, which would have been unthinkable only
a short time ago. Even for sales of non-restricted
technology, U.S. Customs regulations make the cost of
doing business with the Soviet Union onerous, and many
American businessmen and women want the
rules changed to give them access to a market of 285
million people desperate for consumer goods.

The U.S. government fears a future Soviet Union that has
managed to work out its worst economic
problems, develop a credible technological infrastructure,
and maintain and improve its gigantic
military. There is also the issue of international stature.
The Soviet Union is losing prestige because it
cannot produce even subsistence goods for its people, let
alone a decent life. The United States stands in
sharp contrast to such a picture. If the Soviet Union were
to discover a way to use computers to make
its economic system actually work, it might regain the
reputation it once had in the world. American
policymakers tend to see this as a zero-sum game: if the
Soviet Union wins, the United States loses, and
vice versa.

These are some of the issuesÑthe main onesÑthat I was
interested in investigating on the spot, in the
Soviet Union. I had studied the situation from afar for
some time, and had become friends with a number
of prominent Soviet computer professionals, including the
late Andrei Ershov, until his recent death
the Soviet Union's most famous computer scientist and
director of the Soviet Computing Center in
Novosibirsk. Ershov and I spent quite a bit of time
together in Italy in 1987Ñwe appeared on Italian
television together in a point-counterpoint discussion of
computers and arms controlÑand we talked
candidly with one another about the role of computers in
the historic transformation of Soviet society.

Ershov, by outward appearance a small, gentle, smiling man
who was obviously a scientist, was a
passionate championÑsome Soviet bureaucrats might say
fanaticÑ about what the Soviets call
informatizatsiya, or the "informatization" of Soviet
society. It took me some time to figure out what was
at stake in the use of this term. Apparently some Soviet
officials, mostly the conservative old guard,
view computers chiefly as a way to improve the productivity
of traditional Soviet industries such as
steel, oil and gas, chemical production, hydroelectric
plants, and so on. Workers in these industries are
the most well paid and privileged people in the Soviet
Union, and they typically make up the backbone of
the Communist Party. What we call blue collar workers have
a much higher status in the Soviet Union
than doctors, teachers, intellectuals, journalists, and
attorneys, for example.

Ershov believed that the future economies of all advanced
countries will be based on information, not on
traditional manufacturing and resource processing. Looking
at the transformations of economies in the
West, the supporters of informatizatsiya assert that the
Soviet Union must move in the same direction,
to a ``post-industrial" economy that values most highly
intellectual ability, service to customers,
instantaneous transactions, and the commodity value of
information. At the moment, the Soviet economy
is almost exactly the opposite of this post-industrial
picture. The workers who are most highly
rewarded are not intellectually distinguished, providing
quality service to customers is virtually non-
existent as a principle in the economy and the culture,
transactions can take forever, and there is no
open market so there can be no rational calculation of the
commodity value of anything, least of all
information, which tends to be highly compartmentalized and
excessively secret.

So the proponents of informatizatsiya will not be satisfied
with merely a massive introduction of
computer technology into traditional Soviet enterprises.
What is required is an almost 180 degree
redirection of the entire Soviet way of doing business, a
complete reorientation of the means of
production. Ershov believed, and others there now follow
his lead, that this is the only reasonable
course for the Soviet economy, the only means to survival
in the next century. But its implications are
radical to the point of being impossibly utopian: it would
mean a completely open Soviet society, with a
sophisticated technological and commercial infrastructure
that is today not even remotely present, and
with a dynamism and optimism in the average Soviet citizen
that no one who has ever been there could
have confidence will appear.

Ershov was probably somewhat naive about the alleged
promise of post-industrial society (I was
disappointed to hear him frequently refer to the worst of
American literature on the subject, such as
Naisbitt and Toffler). However, he was not uncritical of
the role of computers, and he was
characteristically modest about the state of Soviet
computing technology. What Ershov did not
adequately understand, from my perspective, were the
political and social demons that have to be both
unleashed and tamed in order to adequately develop the
conditions for an open Soviet society based on the
free and instantaneous flow of information. Most Soviet
citizens have no experience with, and no
thoughts of, computers. If they think of them at all it is
as more complicated versions of typewriters or
cash registers, or as robots that threaten to take away
their jobs. Most Soviet citizens have very little
experience with technological commodities in general,
except television. Small minorities own
telephones, or cars, or even clothes dryers. The average
citizen comes into contact with technology only
on the job, and there the technology is probably decades
old and not working very well. And on the job,
technology does not serve economic rationality but the
dictates of a plan, which is in itself unrelated to
demand, utility, cost, or any of the other usual economic
categories. The Soviets appear to have no need
for spreadsheet programs, for example (we didn't see one),
because there is little forecasting, no
market planning, and no financial problem-solving required.
There is even a large disincentive for
using computers at all in many enterprises because so much
of the business has to be done off the books,
under the table. Under such conditions the computer becomes
either an added burden (for entering
cooked numbers) or potential evidence at a trial for
industrial corruption.

Therefore, the computerization of the Soviet Union is a
variant of the chicken and egg problem. It
reinforced for me how important the social context of
computerization is in order for the computer to
be functional at all. In order for computers to be useful,
they must be surrounded by a complex and rich
mix of motivations for using them, and these motivations
are largely independent of the availability of
the computer. In order for the Soviet Union to computerize
in a fashion that competes with the West, it
will take a transformation of consciousness and economic
organization there every bit as profound as
that which accompanied the revolution of 1917. The
fascinating question is not only whether this is
possible, but whether any government or even widespread
national purpose can control its effects.

This is one facet of the amazing struggle going on in the
Soviet Union today. Unfortunately, but not
surprisingly, this aspect of the battle over perestroika is
completely invisible to the vast majority of
Soviet citizens, who have very little knowledge of
alternatives to their current way of life. The Soviet
people are justifiably fed up with the shortcomings of
their system, but there is very little evidence of
a comprehensive democratic program to correct the
situation. While there is almost universal and
unanimous contempt for traditional centralized planning,
there is also widespread suspicion and even
hostility directed toward new forms of free enterprise.
And, through strange quirks in the intersections
of economics, history, international politics, and
technology, computers are caught up in this contest
over the future of the Soviet Union.

PCs = Precious Commodities

The most prominent and startling fact about personal
computers in the Soviet Union is how much they
cost. In the United States, most personal computers are
going down in price, but in the Soviet Union
prices are going up. And the prices are already
astronomical. In fact, because automoblies cost only
about a third of the price of a computer, and because
housing is very cheap, the computer may be the
most expensive commodity a Soviet citizen can own. In terms
adjusted for average incomes, buying a
computer in the Soviet Union is comparable to buying a
house in the United States.

A generic IBM PC XT or a clone costs around $1,000 in the
United States. In the Soviet Union, on the
street market in Moscow, the same computer costs between
50,000 and 70,000 rubles. At the official
rate of exchange between rubles and dollars, that makes the
XT cost about $80,000! No one uses the
official rate of exchange except foreigners, of course; on
the street in the illegal black market in
currency you can get between five end ten rubles per
dollar. At seven rubles per dollar, the XT costs at
least $7,000. An I BM AT or clone costs about $13,000, and
the very rare 386 machines go up to
$25,000 (386 machines can be as low as $3,000 in the U.S.).

These prices are even more astonishing for an economy in
which the usual wage is only a few hundred
dollars a month, and in which people spend about a third of
their income on food. The average Soviet
computer consumer would need about thirty years to save
enough to buy an AT clone at typical Soviet

There are Soviet personal computers (sold in a single
retail store called Electronika on Leninsky
Prospekt in Moscow), but very few people use them because
they are not standard MS-DOS computers,
they are not very powerful, and they are unreliable. When
they have hardware failures, which are
common, it can take up to a year and a half to get them
fixed. There are more powerful Soviet computers
as well, including minicomputers (VAX clones) and
mainframes (IBM 360 clones), but everyone uses
MS-DOS computers for serious work. They even use AT clones
for non-linear mathematical modelling
at the Institute for Applied Mathematics. Soviet computers
are considerably cheaper than foreign
models, but even they are beyond the means of most Soviets.
A typical entry-level Soviet personal
computer costs about 15,000 rubles, or between $2,500 and
$3,000, (about the same price as a new
car in Moscow) and it is usually a machine with a cassette
tape storage system, very low memory, no
printer, no ports, and a poor monochrome monitor. These
machines are used mostly for home
programming in BASIC and for games. (The Elektronika store
allows you to keep up appearances,
however. It sells a sheet of decals to affix to your
computer, among which is a logo that says "PC XT.Ó)

The prices of foreign personal computers have led to some
rather bizarre phenomena in Moscow. Many
foreign-made personal computers are bought and sold and
rebought and resold many times over,
without much use it appears, simply for their commodity
value. That is, it appears a percentage of
personal computers on the market are being used not for
their computational capabilities but for their
pure abstract value, like precious gems. Because personal
computers are transportable, they are like
having the value of an American house in a package that can
be carried in the trunk of a car.

This makes the personal computer highly desirable in sheer
commodity value, and as such it has become
the object of desire for a lot of criminals. In fact, this
form of "computer crime" is rising sharply in
Moscow, and we heard many times how the police, the
militia, are woefully underskilled and ill
prepared to deal with crimes such as burglary, armed
robbery, and extortion, all of which are used to
acquire personal computers. People who work for
cooperatives with a lot of computer equipment are
even worried about kidnapping, with their loved ones being
held for a ransom paid in personal
computers. There is a serious and apparently growing
problem of organized crime in Moscow and other
Russian cities, and the inability of the government to
protect citizens from these criminal syndicates
(which are called, generically, "mafia") is a major source
of civil discontent these days.

Trading Empty Beer Bottles for Computers

In order to go into the unusual complexities of the market
for computers in the Soviet Union, it is
necessary to explain some of the features of Soviet
commercial transactions, which can get rather
amusing. The basic unit of currency in the Soviet Union,
the ruble, is not convertible to other
currencies except by a governmentally dictated exchange
rate that allows foreigners to change their
"hard currency" into rubles while visiting the Soviet
Union. This policy makes the ruble worthless
outside the Soviet Union, and it is technically illegal to
carry any rubles out of the country. It is also
illegal for Soviet citizens to own foreign currency,
although there is an omnipresent black market in
hard currency that, as a tourist, is impossible to avoid.
Foreign hard currency in the Soviet Union has
almost infinitely more buying power than rubles, a fact
which taken alone is a significant symbol of the
pathetic weakness of the Soviet economy.

In order to purchase goods from abroad, the Soviet Union
either has to pay with hard currency
reserves, which are preciously guarded and are reportedly
dwindling to alarmingly low levels, or else
has to barter some goods or services with the foreign
seller. Pepsi, for example, which sells
Pepsi-Cola all over the Soviet Union, reportedly takes most
of its payment in vodka, which is sold as
Smirnoff in the United States. A French company, we were
told, sold some computers to a Soviet state
enterprise and took as payment several million tons of
aluminum scrap, which the French company
then sold to a Third World country. The Soviet enterprise
had bought the aluminum from all over the
Soviet Union, paying in rubles. We met and talked with an
American computer salesman who works for
an Austrian company, and he told us that he had traded some
$400,000 worth of computers to an East
European enterprise for six million empty beer bottles,
which he then sold in Italy. Business in the
Soviet Union is sometimes comparable to business in the
16th century. Foreign personal computers
must be purchased with hard currency, originally, even
though they may eventually be sold for rubles.
And for people in the computer business in the Soviet
Union, finding the hard currency or the
appropriate goods or services to be bartered in exchange
for computer equipment is a manic
preoccupation. Just before I left for Moscow, for example,
I was offered a two-week cruise on a yacht
in Lake Baikal if I would bring over a PC AT clone with
some very detailed specifications. Throughout
our visit we were constantly besieged with schemes and
proposals for "joint ventures" that would give
the Soviet partners some access to hard currency or
computer equipment provided by the U.S. partner.
A good portion of these proposals were hard to listen to
with a straight face, and eventually we wanted to
scream at the very mention of a "joint venture."

Joint Venture in the White House

It was not surprising that the joint venture appealed to
Soviet computer enthusiasts, since the place
where we saw the most computing equipment, and the best use
of it, was a joint U.S.-Soviet venture
called Dialog. Dialog is a partnership between five large
Soviet state enterprises, including Moscow
State University for example, and a Chicago trading partner
called Management Partnerships
International. Dialog's Moscow headquarters is in a huge
building made of white marble, which is
amusingly and appropriately known as the White House.
Inside are offices, classrooms with PC's, two
auditoriums, a programmer's shop, and even a company
cafeteria. Dialog also has another office we
visited, which also had PC classrooms, offices for
programmers, and a small snack bar.

Dialog has become the exclusive agent for Microsoft
products in the Soviet Union. They translate
Microsoft documentation into Russian, develop Cyrillic
front-ends for MS-DOS and application
packages, train Soviet users, and do site-licensing for
large customers. Since there are no retail stores
for Western software, Microsoft products are sold in the
Soviet Union the way IBM mainframe software
is sold in the United States.

Dialog was obviously stinking rich in computer equipmentÑ
the company had far more equipment than
any other place we visited, including government agencies.
We asked Jack Byers, an American manager
working in Moscow for Dialog, what it takes for an American
company to develop a successful joint
venture in the Soviet Union (recent studies show that most
of these fail). Byers said that the most
important thing was to understand that there would be no
short-term payoff, and that the American
partner would have to get used to seeing its income in
rubles instead of a currency they could put in the
bank at home. In other words, we assumed, American
companies would have to take a big gamble, put up
a lot of money with very little assurance they would get it
back, and also take a head first dive into the
snake pit of Soviet bureaucracy, all rather powerful
disincentives for joint ventures. The mismatch
between the clamoring for joint ventures that we heard from
people in the Soviet Union and the low
rewards for an American company willing to take such a risk
made for an even grimmer prognosis for
the Soviet economy as a whole. Recently, twenty large
American corporations announced a potential $10
billion deal with the Soviets for joint venture
manufacturing operations, but the details of this have yet
to be worked out, and it would not be surprising if the
eventual results fall far short of the claims made
in the announcement.

Get Rich Through Cooperation

Some people in the Soviet Union have decided not to rely on
a source of hard currency outside the
country, and they have joined the recent explosion of
cooperative businesses. Cooperatives are a new
manifestation of free enterprise in the Soviet Union,
legally permitted by the government only
recently. There are cooperatives in hundreds of different
kinds of businesses, but most are restaurants,
bakeries, taxi and bus services, and various other kinds of
services. Cooperatives are not allowed in
medical care, primary or secondary education, video
production, or publishing. I have heard estimates
that there are now about 40,000 cooperatives registered
with the government, and they employ close to
2 million people. Apparently anyone can start a
cooperative, but the typical cooperative seems to
involve a group of workers who start an operation that is
more or less attached to a state enterprise
that they also work for. The two may coexist, or the
cooperative may eventually go off on its own. Based
on our interviews, it would appear that most people who
work for cooperatives also have a job at a state
enterprise. The core of a cooperative, the collective
owners, are typically full-time employees.

There are now a number of computer cooperatives in Moscow,
and we visited a few and talked with
cooperative owners and employees. We did not visit
cooperatives that simply resell computer
hardware, since we guessed that these people are less
interested in computers than in their value. Most
of the people we talked with are involved in programming.
Since there is virtually no reliable source of
hardware components in the Soviet Union, there are very few
cooperatives that specialize in hardware
development; we did hear of a cooperative in Leningrad that
specializes in sound digitizing boards for
the PC AT. Most of the programmers we met work with MS-DOS
machines, and they develop
applications such as Russian spelling checkers, Cyrillic
front ends, custom run-time versions of dBase
III, graphics editors, and various other products. The most
common languages were BASIC, C, and Forth.
A few of the programmers do consulting with their customers
as well as actual coding.

The programmer community in the Soviet Union resembles its
counterpart in the United States. Most of
the programmers are men in their early to mid-thirties,
occasionally in their twenties, who were
first introduced to computers in college or in the
workplace. Nearly all of them have a scientific
background, which is why they were allowed to work with
computers in the first place. Most of them
seemed to have come from physics, applied mathematics,
medicine and other fields instead of from
formal training in computer science. Like U.S. hackers,
many of the independent programmers we met
had a slightly bohemian character. They tended to be
extremely bright, cynical about the Soviet
government, and irritated by but generally resigned to
their country's backwardness in technology.
Only when the subject of the international trade
restrictions arose did some of the programmers I met
really light up they all want to get their hands on 32-bit

Independent programmers in Moscow use computers at work, at
home, or, less commonly, at the offices
of cooperatives they belong to. The Soviet work ethic in
official jobs is sufficiently relaxed that most
people can work another full-time job without much
difficulty. We found a few programmers whose
managers let them bring their computers home and work
alone. Other programmers got computers out
of some deal they made with a state enterprise or a joint
venture. For example, one programmer whose
cooperative had developed a computer animation package got
his AT from Dialog, which had sold one of
his animated presentations to an Italian company. Some
cooperatives make enough money to actually buy
equipment, when it is available.

Many cooperatives make a lot of money, and people who go to
work for cooperatives, or who start one,
typically make many times what they made in their state
enterprise jobs. It is not uncommon for
cooperative workers to make thousands of rubles per month
versus the few hundreds, usually less than
four hundred, rubles of the average state sector worker.
Often this does not improve the lot of the
cooperative worker significantly, because there are so few
things in the stores to buy. But it does allow
for some displays of wealth, such as dining in cooperative
restaurants, where the food is much better
than in state-run restaurants but where meals cost five
times more. Or instead of buying a car, one
hires a driver with a car. Or one can buy a computer, the
prices of which make the average Soviet
citizen light-headed. One can pay higher prices for better
service and goods because the new
cooperatives tend to service each other.

In the 1920s, Lenin abruptly introduced a period of free
enterprise known as the New Economic Plan,
or NEP. This was intended as a correction to the
catastrophic economic results of "war communism"
practiced during the Russian Civil War. During the period
of the NEP, which was ended by Stalin
shortly after Lenin died, a new class of relatively wealthy
entrepeneurs and capitalists emerged, and
they were known as "nepmen." Now the term has been revived,
and the people who work for
cooperatives are being called "the new nepmen." It is not a
term of affection.

There is a developing class stratification among people in
Moscow that is no longer tied exclusively to
the leadership of the Communist Party. Now Muscovites and
other cosmopolitan Russians see people
making large sums of money through the operation of
cooperatives, and for the most part they don't like
it. The situation is not helped by the fact that many
cooperatives are in fact ripoff artists, selling
shoddy products at exorbitant prices, or simply speculating
in markets. Officials of the state and Party
are jealous; it is not yet allowed to accept the
cooperatives as a completely legitimate economic sector,
let alone work for a cooperative, yet the income of some of
the lowliest cooperative workers dwarfs that
of high state officials. Moreover, state enterprise workers
and officials know that they are mired in an
economic sector that is eating itself alive from
irrationality and nonsense bureaucracy, while
cooperative workers are cleaning up by providing people
what they want. The emotions over these
disparities are running high. One cooperative computer
programmer told us about the state authorities,
"They hate me. They hate me!" And a former propagandist for
the Party derided the cooperatives at any
opportunity, calling them parasites, speculators, and

We felt, unanimously, that the cooperatives were the most
exciting and ultimately most promising
sector of the Soviet economy. It seemed obvious to us that
the people in cooperatives, working with
their own rules and for their own material benefit, were
far and away more efficient, more motivated,
courteous, optimistic, and generally productive, than their
state sector counterparts. I had to face facts
and agree with a friend of mine, who is a director of a
U.S. foundation and who had been to the Soviet
Union last October, when he said that the contrast between
Soviet state socialism and the cooperatives
gave him a new appreciation for capitalism, and, given his
political background, this was a bit of a
shock. Esther and I found ourselves arguing with our Soviet
hosts, saying that we believed that the most
patriotic Soviets we had encountered were the people we met
in cooperatives.

However, we were disappointed, even depressed, to hear
strong negative attitudes about cooperatives
among many Soviet colleagues. One even predicted that the
cooperatives will not last, and that the
government will eventually rescind the order that made them
legal. One hears countless such rumors in
the Soviet Union, but what made this statement so
discouraging was the economic insanity that it
revealed. The Soviet economy is coming to a slow, grinding,
squealing halt. When we were there the city
of Moscow ran out of sugar and it had to be rationed. Milk
and meat were hard to find. Restaurants
typically served only one or two items listed on their
menus, which nevertheless were always pages
long. And yet we observed that the one new feature of
Soviet economic life that has the potential to save
the nation from utter collapse lives a fragile existence,
in the midst of a sea of distrust and even
hostility, and subject to unexpected and sudden official
regulations that casually upend the entire
environment for cooperatives. Perestroika has much farther
to go than I realized.

Solzhenitsyn vs. Sausages

What all this led me to understand is that the political
constraints on the use of computers as a means of
communication, which before I left I took to be the chief
obstacle to the computerization of Soviet
society, were almost absent; the economic constraints on
the use of computers, on the other hand, were
almost overwhelming, something that I had not appreciated
before visiting the country. The Soviets
have a new saying, "It is easier to publish Solzhenitsyn
than to make sausages." Freedom of speech still
has a long way to go, of course, but it is progressing in
great leaps, astonishing to everyone including
the Soviets. But the economy is not only not progressing
under perestroika, it is going backwardsÑ
things are getting worse. It seemed to me that no one has
an adequate answer for this problem, that in
fact there may be no answer, and that this will be the most
important problem facing the Soviet Union
in the years and probably decades to come.

Before visiting the Soviet Union I was intrigued by the
suggestion made here in the West that computers
will play a large role in any economic revitalization of
the Soviet Union, or the parallel claim that if
the Soviets ever do get their economy going and acquire
access to computer technology, their superior
educational system will tear us apart economically, as
badly as the Japanese. Both these arguments
seem fatuous to me now.

On the one hand, the Soviet economy looks to me, admittedly
from a superficial glimpse, to be in such
universally bad shape that adding computers to Soviet
industry will amount to a metaphorical spit in
the ocean. Moreover, as noted above, the civil and economic
environment in which computers are
introduced has to be conducive to the technology in order
for it to be effective. Professor Loren Graham,
an expert on Soviet science and technology at Harvard and
MIT, told a conference on Soviet computing
convened by the Aspen Institute in March, "The United
States worries about technology transfer. But the
Soviets have to worry about technology receptiveness." My
view is that the Soviets' problems with
technology receptiveness are far greater than any problems
we could have from them as a result of
technology transfer. Simply dumping computers on the Soviet
Union with its current economic system
will not have much effect, and the computers themselves
will not be a catalyst for change. They will
more likely than not wind up in a closet, or sold to a
programmer or a black marketeer.

At the same time, the Soviet system as it is currently
constituted does not provide the educational
experience necessary for making the country really
competitive in computer technology, no matter how
many computers might be made available there. It is true
that Soviet students get far more and
apparently better education in science and mathematics than
students in the United States (this was
mentioned to us repeatedly, it is a source of national
pride). But because there is no market for
software products in the Soviet Union, computer programmers
don't know when they're doing good work
and when they're doing mediocre workÑall they have to go on
is the evaluation of their superiors, who
often know next to nothing about computers, and frequently
don't care strongly if a system works
efficiently or not. Since there is no market "pull" for
applications, Soviet programmers, who may be
genius programmers for all we know, fiddle with what we
would consider mundane jobs, like Cyrillic
front ends for MS-DOS. The truly creative programmers, like
some we met who had developed every
interesting computer animation package for the PC, have
little or no opportunity to test their programs
in the international market, and they know virtually
nothing about the importance of packaging and
marketing, for example. We were told by some of our Soviet
hosts that the Soviet Union would pick
software products for promotion on the international market
by means of a national contest, through
which the best software product would be selected by a
panel of judges and then prepared for sales
overseas. We were astonished by the naivete of this plan,
and also by the earnestness with which it was
described as the very best method for finding superior
software in the Soviet Union.

The Soviet economic system, especially the absence of a
market, is pulling the Soviet Union further and
further behind the West in computer technology. There may
be a point, and it may be right now, at
which it will be virtually impossible for the Soviets to
contemplate catching up with the West. Western
countries and the Soviet Union are on two different trains,
and one is travelling much faster than the
other, and gaining speed, while the other is losing speed.
Under such conditions one cannot be optimistic
that the two trains will eventually travel together, or at
least not without a drastic change in their
progress. What this means for the Soviet economy and for
the society in general is anyone's guess, I
imagine. Either the country will find away to cope, and one
would hope with evolving, normalized
relations with the West which could help the situation
enormously, or the country will hit bottom and
then its future will be an open question. I would not bet
on either outcome. It is clear that the economic
problems of the Soviet Union are so systemic that computers
will not influence the outcome

Computers and Repression

What about the possibility of computers being used as an
instrument of repression in the Soviet Union?
First, although the events in China might tend to shake
one's confidence, it is hard to imagine the Soviet
Union going back to Stalinist repression. The criticism of
Stalin and those days is so widespread it is
even part of the spiel of Intourist bus guides in
MoscowÑmine referred to Stalin as a "lunatic" and as
"deranged." The head of the KGB has said that he wants a
civilian oversight committee to guard against
KGB abuses. The Soviet people are pushing steadily and
courageously for more democratic reforms, and
it is difficult to believe that the system could slip back
into the dark days of Stalinist terror without
another civil war.

But, as far as the role of computers is concerned, even if
the Soviet government did revert to a more
repressive character, there are too few computers in the
Soviet Union to make them very useful as an
integrated infrastructure for repression. As pointed out by
University of Arizona Professor Seymour
Goodman, who probably knows more about Soviet computing
than anyone (including the Soviets), there
is more of a danger of repressive use of computers in the
United States than in the Soviet Union simply
because the proliferation of the technology, and its
effective use, gives Americans far more transactions
using information technology than Soviet citizens. Soviets
don't use credit cards, they don't fill out
forms which are then entered into electronic databases,
their telephone system is horrendously
primitive, most cash transactions are still calculated with
an abacus and a stick. The repressive use of
computers requires a high degree of technological
infrastructure and sophistication. The much more
likely means of repression in the Soviet Union are those
used previously: terror, violence, fear,
gulags, etc. All of these worked only too well before the
invention of the modern computer.

Computers and Democratic Consciousness

Finally, what role can computers play in the
democratization of the Soviet Union? Will they be a means
for communicating democratic desires, an instrument for
sweeping change? There is of course evidence
that such sweeping change is already underway, without the
help of computers for the most part. But I
was given another perspective on computers and democracy by
a leading Soviet computer programmer,
at age 35 one of the grand old men of the programmer
community in Moscow (we attended his wonderful
birthday party), Arkady Borkowsky.

Alexander (Sasha) Bodrov, a programmer and entrepenuer from
the cooperative Studio for Computer
Arts, showing his PC-based animation program at a Moscow
software fair.

Arkady told me that he believes that in order for people to
have faith in democracy, they must feel that
they themselves have value, real economic value. He said
that in the Soviet Union today, because of the
way they are treated and rewarded for their work, people
get the impression that they are completely
expendable, unimportant to any great task, that a job is
merely an activity to keep people busy and to
collect them in a place so they can be controlled more
easily. There is little or no chance for
distinguishing one's selfÑin fact, people who are
exceptional are treated with suspicion and ostracism.
People are deliberately given an inferiority complex (we
noticed the really irritating paternalism of
many Soviet authorities), and consequently do not believe
that they have the self-confidence to make
democratic decisions about important issues.

Arkady said that when you become good at working with
computers, it is like a new world that you can
create from scratch. You can transfer your own personality
into a computer program, you can watch
yourself get better, and you can manipulate things with
great power and precision. At the same time,
you discover that you can turn this into economic value.
Just sitting at a computer, as an individual
confronted with a blank piece of paper, one can see the
connections between opportunity, talent,
perseverance, discipline, and reward, and this results in a
powerful transformation of consciousness.
Not only that, said Arkady, it is more than just an
intangible revelation; it can make one financially
independent of the state, and this is an important
foundation for freedom of expression.

We heard a similar theme from Alexander (Sasha) Bodrov, one
of the heads of the cooperative called
Studio for Computer Arts, which produced the wonderful
animation application. Sasha said that
computers allow a whole new level of creativity and
problem-solving that is essential for intellectual
development. His cooperative's product grew out of
experiments in an elementary school in which
children were taught how to solve mathematical problems
using graphic imagery. Now they hope to be
able to use interactive computer graphics to support adult
problem solving. "Does this help the
development of democracy in your country?" I asked Sasha.
"Of course," he said. "That's why we're
doing it."

The Light at Perspektiva

Another cooperative has taken an even more activist
position. We met with some of the leaders of the
cooperative Perspektiva, which has both commercial and
nonprofit activities. Profits from the
commercial sideÑwhich includes a computer branch that does
programming, consulting, training and
other servicesÑare used to support nonprofit activities
that promote democratization and human rights
in the Soviet Union.

We ran into the people from Perspektiva almost by accident,
but, for me, they turned out to be the most
interesting people we met. I talked primarily with Grigory
(Grisha) Pelmon, one of the founders of
Perspektiva, who now works for an association of
cooperatives that are involved in social services. The
ten cooperatives in Grisha's association address problems
such as youth crime and drug abuse, domestic
violence, Afghan war veteran's issues, and similar social
issues. Grisha and his colleagues are also
involved in trying to start a means for what they call
"alternative tourism," so that visitors to the
Soviet Union can be independent of the government-assigned
hotels and tour guides. I found out after I
had met and talked with Grisha that he is actually quite
famous in Moscow as a cooperativnik and an
activist for democracy and human rights. He is also a
computer professional by training.

One of the most interesting projects of Perspektiva is what
they simply call "the information center."
Behind a series of rooms where people work on a variety of
computers is a small room lined with
shelves, and the shelves are filled with small cardboard
filing boxes. Wherever there are no shelves is
a map of a Soviet republic. We sat in this room and talked
with Grisha and his colleagues about the
mission of the information center.

Perspektiva's information center is an independent,
nonprofit clearinghouse of information on
"informal social movement organizations" in the Soviet
Union, over a thousand of them. The volunteers
who work at the information center track organizations and
loosely-knit groups all over the Soviet
Union, ranging from democratic communists to the neo-
fascist organization Pamiat. The center collects
flyers, newsletters, correspondence, newspaper articles,
publicationsÑany kind of information
available from or about the newly emerging "middle sector"
of Soviet civil society. Then they distribute
this information to people and organizations all over the
country. The goal is to help promote democracy
by giving people connections, and making them feel they are
part of something larger than just
themselves or their own local group. The information center
works to promote democratic politics from
the ground up by helping constituencies identify themselves
and their interests, and putting them in
touch with people who feel the same way. This was a
refreshing and welcome departure from some of the
other schemes we heard about promoting democracy; for
example, a historian who had been elected to
the Congress of People's Deputies told us that he believes
computers will be useful in teaching people
how to be democratic. The people at Perspektiva find that
many people in the Soviet Union are already
acting democratically, and they need only facilitative
assistance, not instruction.

The members of the Perpektiva cooperative have a political
"perspective" that drives their work, but it
was difficult for us to understand its subtleties because
of translation problems. They said they foresee
a new Soviet Union that is not rigidly socialist, but not
capitalist, and which promotes by example
peace, ecology, human rights and democracy. Although the
Perspektiva offices we saw looked like any
normal office, with people doing standard work on a number
of PCs, there was an atmosphere of
dedication and a larger purpose that I did not feel at most
other places we visited. Also absent in our
conversations with Perspektiva members was the almost
ubiquitous cynicism and fatalism that is so
common to Muscovites, especially to so many of the nouveau
riche cooperative members. Perspektiva
members described Soviet politics as an ongoing struggle
with many opportunities and many dangers,
not as a monolithic system that they expected to simply
fall around their ears.

The people of Perspektiva were about the most
straightforward that I met in MoscowÑthey struck me as
friends, people like me, right away. In fact, I was quite
amazed at what a rapport Grisha and I seemed to
have within just a few minutes of conversation. It seemed
our goals are largely the same, our political
persuasions are very similar, our interests run to the same
things, we even have nearly identical jobs.
And when I asked Grisha and his friends why they do what
they do, why they take on what are obvious
sacrifices for activity that I consider both patriotic and
essential for international peace, they said
exactly what I would have said in answer to the same
question of me: "We can't imagine living any other

The Perspektiva members also impressed me because they were
among the few Soviets that we met that
never got around to suggesting that there was something we
could do for them. They were quite happy
simply to tell us about their work, and they were clearly
independent of any outside support; indeed,
their resources are meager, if not poverty-stricken. So
when I suggested to several of the people at the
information center, as we all sat around a table surrounded
by a priceless collection of hardcopy
information, that I might be able to get them some computer
equipment donated from the United States,
they couldn't believe what I was saying. And when I
assurred them that this was in fact a real
possibility, they immediately got serious and said that
computer equipment would help their work more
than anything else, and they got down to the business of
describing what it is they need. It turns out that
although the commercial side of the cooperative has several
PCs, they are used constantly for computer
projects that pay money, and the money is important for
keeping everyone alive, of course. The
information center, which is a volunteer project of the
cooperative, can only use the computers when
they are not being used for anything else, which is rare.
Moreover, the information center volunteers
are interested in developing an electronic mail system, or
a bulletin board, to make communication
with the center easier for people in the outlying

I suggested to them that they develop a funding proposal
that I could take to foundations in the United
States. They prepared this before I left, within a few
days. As soon as it is translated, I will try to shop
it around to places that might be willing to help support
an important part of democratization in the
Soviet Union. We will be looking for about $75,000 in
equipment and financial support.

The Moscow Blues

Our whirlwind trip through the world of Soviet computing
was a great adventure and the experience of a
lifetime. We met many wonderful people who treated us with
great hospitality, warmth, and respect,
and we had a wonderful time. The sights of the Soviet Union
are unforgettable, particularly in
Leningrad, which is one of the most beautiful cities I have
ever seen. I know there are moments that
Esther, Sherry and I shared that we will always remember,
such as when Esther and I were caught in a
surprise hailstorm on the Baltic near the summer palace of
the czars, or when Sherry and a gentleman
from Latvia sang "Love Is A Many Splendoured Thing" in a
restaurant in Suzdal.

But near the end of my stay I was ready to come home. The
Soviet Union is a tiring experience, and it
gave me a low background level of aggravation that made
little annoyances much larger than they would
be anywhere else. And the little annoyances in the country
are countless. I was also depressed at the
colossal waste of human talent in the country, a noble
dream turned into history's worst nightmare. And
despite my happiness at finding optimistic and activist
people at Perspektiva, the weight of despair of
many of the other people we met dragged on my soul. I spent
some time trying to comfort our young
translator, for example, until I realized that a difficulty
with a bus driver had made her start crying
for her entire country and its troubles, not just because
of the situation of the moment. A Russian
reporter for an American newsweekly magazine told me over
vodka at an elegant party, "Your country
has two crimes: slavery and Vietnam. In my country it would
take a hundred years just to name the
crimes." And his wife told me, with only a superficial
politeness, "Americans always tell us that it is so
interesting here. But we have to live with what you find so

I had no consolations for these people because I was so
appalled at what I saw for myself, and of course I
could go home to another way of life. I was also forced
into an unwelcome pessimism about the future of
the Soviet Union because the job of effective and adequate
reform seems so enormous. I went there
hoping that I would see opportunities for computers, and
computer professionals, to play a role in an
historical restructuring and democratization of the world's
other superpower. I am convinced now that
computers are unlikely to have a significant role to play
in this process, at least not in the way that
computers have influenced society in the West. Analogous
conditions simply do not exist in the Soviet
Union, and, moreover, if I were a Soviet leader and my
country was chronically short on food, medical
supplies, and basic consumer goods, computers would not be
high on my list of priorities. Gorbachev is
an unusually canny leader, so I suspect that this is
probably his opinion already, and also a conclusion
that he would prefer not to have reached.

These are personal opinions that I would love to see proved
wrong. There are many historical examples
of the Russian people overcoming great hardships with
superhuman effort and courage. Indeed, the
modern history of the Soviet Union is a miraculous story of
perserverence on the part of the average
citizen. There is a chance that the country will come out
of its worst crisis since World War 11 with a
fresh and appealing new character. Certainly the evidence
is leading in that direction instead of away
from it, which is very encouraging.

How to Improve the World

There are people in the United States, including people in
the government and the military, who believe
that we have a historic opportunity to quash the Soviet
Union once and for all, now that it is down and
struggling. This madness should be opposed at all costs.
Nothing could be more dangerous than to try and
press the Soviet Union into submission or desperation in
this period of political turmoil throughout the
communist world. Not only would it risk a possible coup in
the Soviet Union, which could in turn
develop into war, but even if the Soviets recovered
gracefully they would be disinclined to perceive us
as having been hospitable in their time of need. It is a
relief to see that President Bush is not taking this
line that belongs to some of the people in his camp, and
that he repudiated Secretary of Defense Cheney's
assessment that Gorbachev will soon be replaced by
conservative hardliners.

But of course the United States can do more. We can remove
unreasonable trade restrictions, which
hurt both the Soviets and American business. We can deepen
and strengthen the arms control process,
which builds mutual confidence and provides more resources
for economic development. We can
demilitarize parts of the world that have become contested
yards for superpower displays of armed
might. We can help the Soviets increase their communication
and their interdependence with the West
by promoting information technology exchanges and
infrastructural development across East and West
boundaries. We can give the Soviet Union the clear message
that continued progress in democracy and
human rights will provide them with more security, more
economic opportunity, and better
friendships in the world.

Computer professionals have a role to play in this process,
not only as concerned citizens but as people
with special access to a vision of what the future may
hold. I believe that working for peace and arms
control here in the United States helps the process of
democratization and the development of human
rights overseas. In talking with computer professionals in
the Soviet Union one can instantly
understand that no one in the Soviet Union wants war with
the West, there is no public acceptance of a
potential war in Europe. Yet the nations in Europe, the
Soviet Union and the United States combined
spend about $600 billion per year on military preparedness
for a war no one wants and very few
people expect. It is true that because the Soviet Union is
not a democracy, we have to worry about the
deployment of force by some unpredictable individuals. But
as we give the Soviet Union more indication
that they have nothing to fear from the U.S. and NATO, we
undermine the political position of the few
people in the Soviet Union who would would like to exploit
that fear for their own designs. By
demilitarizing our own society and our way of looking at
international relations, we help support the
work of true democrats in the Soviet Union.

There are very few things that worry Soviet policymakers
more than the United States' capability for
gaining military advantage through the use of high
technology. High tech conventional weapons are an
obsession with Soviet defense planners. So computer
professionals can significantly enhance the
security of the Soviet Union, and thereby help the
democratic process there, by demilitarizing the field
of computer science in the United States and making it
clear that the profession in this country is
interested in peace, trade, communication, and progress in
science and technology for the benefit of

Special thanks go to Esther Dyson, whose hard work and
outspoken bravery were an inspiration, and
whose admirable command of Russian was a great help; to
Sherry Turkle, whose probing intellect and
perfect professionalism are combined with great charm and
warmth; to Levon Amdilyan and Sergei Ulin
in Moscow, who taught us how hospitable two people can be;
to Grisha Pelmon for his quiet heroism that
I still think of often and regularly; to the Ploughshares
Fund and Henry Dakin for providing me with
financial support to travel to the Soviet Union; to the
CPSR Board of Directors for allowing me to go;
and to the CPSR staff for keeping things running smoothly
while I was gone.

Electronic Mail and Conferencing with the Soviet Union

Electronic mail and teleconferencing with computer users in
the Soviet Union is now available through
the San Francisco/Moscow Teleport. Teieport connections can
be made through Globenet, a
telecommunications network available across the United
States. The monthly fee for nonprofit service
is $25 (more for commercial use), and connect time is
approximately $15 per hour. Users should
arrange to have a Soviet partner to communicate with who is
also a Teleport user. There is an on-line
translation service available for a fee. The service can
transmit Cyrillic text. SFMT also supports other
telecommunications services, such as fax and dedicated
lines. The company hopes to be able to provide
on-line access to databases in the Soviet Union in the
future. For more information, write SFMT at
3278 Sacramento St., San Francisco, CA 941 15, or call
(415) 931-8500.

CPSR Chapters June 1989


Ivan M. Milman
P.O. Box 8376
Austin, TX 78713-8376
(512) 823-1588 (work)


Steve Adams
3026 Shattuck
Berkeley, CA 94705
(415) 642-4206 (work)
(415) 845-3540 (home)


Tom Thornton
P.O. Box 962
Cambridge, MA 02142
(617) 666-2777


Don Goldhamer
528 S. Humphrey
Oak Park, IL 60304
(312) 702-7166 (work)


Randy Bloomfield
P.O. Box 18254
Boulder, CO 80308-8254
(303) 938-8031 (home)

CPSR/Los Angeles

Rodney Hoffman
P.O. Box 66038
Los Angeles, CA 90066
(213) 932-1913


Debby Servi
128 S. Hancock St., #2
Madison, WI 5370
(608) 257-9253 (home)


Betty Van Wyck
Adams Street
Peaks Island, Maine 04108
(207) 766-2959


Sean Samis
6719 Moltke
Milwaukee, WI 53210
(414) 445-0168


David J. Pogoff
6512 Belmore Lane
Edina, MN 55343-2062
(612) 933-6431 (home)

CPSR/New Haven

Larry Wright
702 Orange Street
New Haven, CT 06511
(203) 248-7664

CPSR/New York

Michael Merritt
294 McMane Avenue
Berkeley Heights, NJ 07922
(201) 582-5334 (work)
(201) 464-8870 (home)

CPSR/Palo Alto

Clifford Johnson
Polya Hall
Stanford, CA 94305
(415) 723-0167 (work)


Lou Paul
314 N. 37th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
(215) 898-1592 (work)


Benjamin Pierce
School of Computer Science
Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
(412) 268-3067 (work)
(412) 681-0233 (home)


Bob Wilcox
P.O. Box 4332
Portland, OR 97208-4332
(503) 246-1540 (home)

CPSR/San Diego

John Michael McInerny
4053 Tennyson Street
San Diego, CA 92107
(619) 534-1783 (work)
(619) 224-7441 (home)

CPSR/Santa Cruz

Alan Schlenger
419 Rigg Street
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
(408) 425-1305 (home)


Doug Schuler
P.O. Box 85481
Seattle, WA 98105
(206) 865-3226

CPSR/Washington, D.C.

David Girard
2720 Wisconsin Ave., N.W., Apt. 201
Washington, D.C. 20007
(202) 965-6220 (home)

CPSR, P.O. Box 717, Palo Alto, CA 94301 (415) 322-3778

Around the Chapters Spring 1989

Northwest Region

Regional Director Jon Jacky reports that both CPSR/ Seattle
and CPSR/Portland are healthy and active,
with regular meetings and a newsletters. The main project
in the Seattle chapter has been organizing
the "Computers for Peace" project, a consortium of eleven
Seattle-area peace activist organizations.
The goal of the consortium is to secure a common hardware
platform and expert training and consulting
for consortium members. CPSR/Seattle has also experimented
with mailing out free newsletters as a
membership promotion, since this brings the size of the
mailing above the 200-piece threshold
necessary for bulk mail and ends up saving the chapter

CPSR/Portland continues to concentrate on its computers and
voting project, which has progressed in
several directions. At the urging of CPSR/Portland, the
Portland State University psychology
department is preparing a study of the human factors
aspects of vote-by-mail with computer-ready
ballots. The first step in the study is to collect actual
vote-by-mail materials, particularly from
jurisdictions that use Vote-O-Matic style booklets.
Therefore, the CPSR/Portland vote-counting
project requests members' help in obtaining booklets from
their own jurisdictions. Members may call
local election officials and ask them for a booklet from a
recent election, including the complete package
that is mailed to the voter (with stylus, ballot, security
envelope, etc.). Mail the booklet to the
CPSR/Portland address that appears in this section. This
research could have a dramatic effect on the
way Americans vote, creating an opportunity to improve
democracy at modest expense. Erik Nilsson of
the CPSR/Portland Voting Project has been named a member of
the Election Center's Committee on
Long- Range Planning, Section on Computer Security.

Western Region

One of the exciting bits of news from the West is the
revitalization of CPSR/Berkeley after several
years of dormancy. Since February, CPSR/Berkeley has
assembled an impressive array of speakers
that has generated considerable enthusiasm and
participation, with over 100 people turning out in May
to hear Hubert Dreyfus speak on "The Limits of Calculative

CPSR/Palo Alto continues to be quite active in several
project areas. The Civil Liberties group recently
prepared an overview of the Medicare claims processing
system that identified various areas in which
privacy was a concern. The report was presented in May to
the Senate Select Committee on Aging. The
Workplace Project is in the planning stages of a conference
on participatory design of workplace
computer systems, tentatively scheduled for the spring of

Alan Schlenger of CPSR/Santa Cruz reports that they
consider last year to be a successful one, despise
some problems that tend to arise in holding a small chapter
together; attendance was generally good and
interest levels are high. Activity is focused on the
monthly chapter meetings, which have included such
topics as Apple's "Knowledge Navigator" videos, women in
the workplace, and the relationship between
computers and U.S. foreign policy.

Christine Borgman reports that CPSR/Los Angeles has managed
to attract a series of excellent speakers
for recent monthly meetings. Topics for recent meetings
include current computer law, social design of
computer-based systems, computer crime, and a discussion of
professional responsibility
provocatively titled "Murphy's Best Friend was a Computer."

Gary Cottrell writes that CPSR/San Diego has concentrated
its activities on meetings, with some
interesting project work on the side. Recent meeting topics
include the first amendment and computer
bulletin boards, novel applications of computers in
elementary education, computers and the disabled,
accidental nuclear war, and a presentation/discussion of
the film Computers in Context. The chapter
projects include making a survey of local industry to
identify opportunities for non-military
employment and an effort to start a computer recycling
project with local prisons and/or libraries.

Moving inland, Randy Bloomfield of CPSR/Denver-Boulder
reports that the big activity in the area is
planning for the Rocky Mountain Al conference where CPSR is
presenting a panel entitled "Can Al
Deliver the Goods?" organized by former chapter chair Jeff
Johnson. The chapter also now has
videotapes of the debate they organized last year between
David Parnas and Lt. Colonel Pete Worden of
the SDIO. Denver-Boulder is also planning to host a potluck
social over the summer to try to build more
momentum for the organization.

Midwestern Region

David Pogoff writes that activities at CPSR/Minnesota have
slowed a bit after the excitement of DIAC-
88, but that steps are being taken to revive things a bit,
and a program committee is in place to plan
for a major speaker in the fall. One of the chapter
interest groups, SPIFF (Software Professionalism is
Feasible and Fun), presented a radio play at a recent
chapter meeting. The chapter is considering other
performances as well as a vehicle for discussing

CPSR/Madison continues to be a real center of CPSR activity
in the Midwest. The newsletter changed its
format earlier this year and has a highly polished and
professional look. Recent meetings have included
a series of presentations on computers in the workplace,
and the chapter now has an active interest
group working in this area. The chapter also has one
project looking into the funding of computer
science research and another in which CPSR members teach
computer skills at the South Madison
Community Center to people of many different ages and

Jerold Heidtke reports that, after being approved as a
chapter in March, CPSR/Milwaukee is in the
process of getting itself established and identifying those
areas that match the interests of the local
members, out of a extensive list of possibilities that were
considered at the April meeting.

Regional Director Hank Bromley passed on a report from
CPSR/Chicago indicating that the chapter is
getting some new energy and is putting together special
interest groups on civil liberties and computers
in education.

Southern Region

Regional Director Alan Cline reports that CPSR/Austin is
devoting most of its energy to chapter
meetings, and that they've had some extremely successful
programs, including a report from the
President of Physicians for Social Responsibility on the
effects of Chernobyl and from a member of the
Austin City Council on the dangers of an excessively
militarized local economy and other issues that
arise in municipal government.

New England Region

From our northern outpost in CPSR/Maine, Betty Van Wyck
reports that the principal current activity
is a project entitled "Computers, Ethics, and Education,"
sponsored by a grant from C PS it/Boston.
Beyond this, the chapter is also considering the question
of computer games and what they are teaching
our children.

CPSR/Boston continues to publish a high-quality newsletter
and holds regular monthly program
meetings, one of which recently examined the issue of how
business pressures lead technology
companies over the ethical edge.

According to chapter contact Larry Wright, CPSR/New Haven
has no news to report and has dropped
below critical mass with the departure of several of its
leaders to other areas. If you are reading this in
Southern Connecticut and want to maintain the CPSR presence
in your area, please get out and help
revitalize this chapter. If you need help contacting other
members in the area (there are 31 listed in
the chapter), please write to Eric Roberts at the National

Mid-Atlantic Region

Newly-elected CPSR/Pittsburgh chair Benli Pierce has
undertaken the task of restructuring the
Pittsburgh chapter and is in the process of trying to
streamline the administrative work and scale back
the scope of activities, so that rather than a big bash
like the virus panel the chapter organized in the
fall, the chapter has a steady stream of smaller things
flowing steadily onward. Benli writes that this
makes it possible to "build an ongoing presence in the
community [so that] people begin to know we're
around." The chapter has also started to publish a

CPSR/Philadelphia, by all accounts, has lapsed into
dormancy. As with other chapters that have had
trouble, the main problem here seems to be the lack of a
critical mass of people to provide the
necessary leadership. If you can help put this chapter back
on its feet (it has 69 members), please get
in touch with the National Office and Regional Director
Susan Suchman.

David Bellin reports that the CPSR/New York study group on
computers and community organizations
is meeting in June with the North Star Fund to discuss the
use of computers as a organizing tool. The
Members Project, which makes available a software package
for handling membership database (see
page 22 of the C PSR Winter 1989 newsletter), has gotten
about a half dozen requests from around the

David Girard reports that CPSR/Washington, D.C., is
proceeding ahead with plans for the Annual
Meeting on October 20-21, and that it has several projects
in the works as well. CPSR/Washington,
D.C., recently offered to extend the status of "CPSR Sister
Chapter" to the Nature, Computers, Humans
Club of Irkutsk, Siberia, in the U.S.S.R.

CPSR Educational Materials

The following materials may be ordered from the CPSR
National Office. All orders must be prepaid.
Please include your name and address for shipping.

Back issues of The CPSR Newsletter are available for $1

Some issues available in photocopy only.

Articles and papers

NUCLEAR WAR. Compiled by Alan
Borning (16 pages - updated October 1984 - $2.00)

Borning (20 pages--February 1987 -

pages - June 1984 - $2.00)

LINE? Christiane Floyd (4 pages -
June 1985 - $1.00)

(reprinted from The Atlantic, 6 pages
- June 1985 - $1.00)

Redell (10 pages - June 1985 - $1.00)

TECHNOLOGY. Compiled by Peter G. Neumann (9 pages - August
1987 - $1.00)

_ DEADLY BLOOPERS. Severo M. Ornstein (16 pages - June 1986
- $2.00)

TRUSTWORTHY? Severo M. Ornstein (4 pages -
October 1986 - $1.00)

Lucy A. Suchman (reprinted from
Abacus, 6 pages - Fall 1985 - $1.00)

Brian C. Smith, and Lucy A. Suchman
(4 pages - June 1984 - $1.00)

SDI. David L. Parnas (Senate
testimony, 2 documents, 7 pages - December 1985 - $1.00)

_ WHY SOFTWARE IS UNRELIABLE. David L. Parnas (8 memoranda,
17 pages - June 1985 - $2.00)

_ PRIVACY IN THE COMPUTER AGE. Ronni Rosenberg (24 pages -
October 1986 - $3.00)

PRIVACY. Ronni Rosenberg (7 pages
- September 1986 - $1.00)

_ THE LIMITS OF CORRECTNESS. Brian Cantwell Smith (21 pages
- June 1985 - $3.00)

(6 pages - October 1984 - $1.00) STRATEGIC COMPUTING
Winograd (28 pages - March 1987 - $3.00

_ THE CONSTITUTION vs. THE ARMS RACE Clifford Johnson (8
pages - December 1986 - $1.00)

Karen Dahl (4 pages - March
1988 - $1.00

(4 pages - January 1988 - $1.00)

pages - October 1987 - $1.00)

Videotapes and Slide Show

Except where noted, CA residents add sales tax

Loan and rental is for one month, except by pre-arrangement

_ Reliability and Risk: Computers and Nuclear War. An award
winning half-hour documentary on
accidental nuclear war, the reliability of computers in
critical settings, and the computer aspects of
the SDI. November 1986 [Slide show rental: $75. Videotape
rental: $25. Videotape purchase, Beta or
VHS: $35, U-matic: $50. Shipping and handling: $7.00.

_ "SDI: Is the Software Feasible?" Seminar sponsored by the
Library of Congress for Congressional
staff members. 1 hour, April 1986. Features Danny Cohen
(SDIO) and Dave Redell (CPSR) presenting
opposing views. Includes questions from the audience.
[Available as a loan only. Shipping and handling:
$7.00, no sales tax]

_ "To Err..." WHA Madison Public Television presentation on
computer failure. Features several
members of CPSR/Madison, 15 minutes, May 1985. [Available
as a loan only. Shipping and handling:
$7.00, no sales tax]

_ MIT debate on the feasibility of the SDI. Co-Sponsored by
the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science
and CPSR/Boston, approx. 2 1/2 hours, October 1985.
Moderator: Mike Dertouzos (head of LCS); pro-
SDI: Danny Cohen and Chuck Seitz (SDIO); con-SDI: David
Parnas (University of Victoria) and Joseph
Weizenbaum (MIT). [Rental: $50] Transcript also available
(please call).


CA residents please add sales tax

Please add $3 for postage and handling.

_ COMPUTERS IN BATTLE: Will They Work? Edited by David
Bellin and Gary Chapman, Harcourt Brace
Jovanovich, 224 pages, 1987. An anthology of perspectives
on the role of computers in the arms race,
written and edited by CPSR members. Available in bookstores
or from the National Office. Cost: $14.95.

of Concerned Scientists, John
Tirman, editor, Beacon Press, 230 pages, 1986. Features
chapters by eight authors. Cost: $7.95.

_ THE SACHERTORTE ALGORITHM and Other Antidotes to Computer
Anxiety. John Shore, Viking Press,
256 pp., 1985. Cost: $7.95.

CPSR, P.O. Box 717, Palo Alto, CA 94301 (415) 322-3778

CPSR Washington Update

Considering the silence surrounding the most recent effort
to save Star Wars, some might wonder
whether the so-called "Brilliant Pebbles" are not teflon-
coated. The plan to place in orbit thousands of
autonomous weapons, designed to chase after unauthorized
missiles, is touted as more effective, less
vulnerable, and less expensive than the earlier laser-based
space shield (which revealed more than a
few holes). True or not, these selling points, intended to
move the proposal past a skeptical public and a
budget-conscious Congress, have met little opposition.

But serious questions remain. What's the likelihood that
one of these thousands of weapons will fail?
What happens when a sensor mistakes a space shuttle or
satellite for an enemy missile? And how do we
take them down if we decide that thousands of automated
weapons ringing the earth do not enhance our
security? One CPSR member says "it's difficult to believe
that people could seriously propose
surrounding the earth with 100,000 (that's the number
proposed by Wood and Teller last summer)
autonomous rocket-and-satellite smashing machines." Well,
we are past the proposal stage, and
Congress is now trying to decide if we can pay for it.

New MathÑThe President's proposal to "cut" the SDI budget
to $4.6 billion actually represents a 21%
increase over the $3.8 billion appropriated by Congress
last year. The cut refers to President Reagan's
original request of $5.7 billion, more money than Congress
had ever appropriated for Star Wars in a
single year. Such is the Washington numbers game that
results when the President puts forward a
military budget with a stepped increase and a cushion for
inflation and describes it as a budget "freeze."

Right to Privacy Gets a BoostÑThe Supreme Court found that
rap sheets maintained by the FBI could not
be disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act. The
opinion is a landmark decision for information
privacy. It is the first ruling that establishes a
heightened privacy interest for computerized record
compilations held by federal agencies.

Computer VirusesÑThe Internet Advisory Board is moving
forward with a plan to develop "digital
envelopes" that would ensure the security and
authentication of messages sent on the Internet. The
proposal includes the use of encryption and is a welcome
step to help protect both the privacy of
Internet communications and to guard against possible
counterfeiting of messages. Meanwhile, no action
in the Cornell virus case. More than six months have passed
since Robert Morris turned himself over to
federal prosecutors. Part of the delay may be an inability
for local prosecutors, the Justice
department, and Morris's attorney to reach an agreement on
the sentence. Without a plea bargain, the
case goes on to court and an uncertain outcome.

Computer Security ActÑThe National Security Agency and the
National Institute of Standards and
Technology signed a Memo of Understanding (MOU), outlining
their responsibilities under the
Computer Security Act. But the MOU has many concerned that
the NSA, the country's largest and most
secretive intelligence agency, may be trying to recapture
ground lost since passage of the act. At stake
is the authority to establish standards for the security
and privacy of computerized information held by
federal agencies.

Electronic Information--Library groups are making progress
in their efforts to revamp the federal
policy on dissemination of electronic information. The
Office of Management and Budget and the key
Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is
reconsiderings its proposed ruling, Circular A-130,
that governs access to electronic information. CPSR board
member David Bellin helped coordinate CPSR
efforts with the librarians to have the rule rescinded.

Science Advisor Named--Dr. Allan Bromley, a professor of
physics at Yale University, has been named
science advisor to President Bush. Regarded as a far more
esteemed scientist than his recent
predecessors, he is described as a good friend of the
President, which should reassure those in the
science community concerned about whether the the science
adviser would have access to the President.
Dr. Bromley is likely to consider first some of the "big
science" projects, such as whether to build the
superconductor-supercollider, whether to map the human
genome, and the future of the manned spaced

ÑMarc Rotenberg

From the Secretary's Desk Eric RobertsÑNational Secretary

Once again, the last few months have been extremely busy
here at CPSR, and there is quite a bit of news
to report. Much of the news is exciting and positive, but
some of it is less so.

Good news first. Opening the Washington office has
increased our visibility enormously, and we've
gotten much more press coverage than ever before. Twice
this year, CPSR was quoted in two separate
stories in the same issue of The New York Times, and our
work is cited regularly in the national press
on a wide range of issues.

We have also had considerable success with our program,
particularly in the civil liberties area. The
most exciting news is the FBI's decision to drop the
"tracking" component of its NCIC proposal (see
story, page 1). This was the main conclusion of our report
to Congress and represents a major victory.
Earlier in the year, we forwarded to all CPSR members a
letter from Congressman Don Edwards (D-
California), in which he gives CPSR considerable credit for
this decision. CPSR has been busy on
Capitol Hill, with Marc Rotenberg and Dave Redell both
appearing before Congressional committees in
May. The details of all that are in the lead story on the
first page.

We are also pursuing our work in the international security
area. CPSR Executive Director Gary
Chapman, along with National Advisory Board member Sherry
Turkle and Annual Meeting speaker
Esther Dyson, toured the Soviet Union, meeting with
computer scientists there; Gary's report begins on
page 10. CPSR responded quickly when Defense Secretary
Cheney outlined the new "Brilliant Pebbles"
plan for Star Wars in his testimony to Congress. The story
broke in The New York Times and The
Washington Post, and by the time it reached The Los Angeles
Times, CPSR was in there with a response.
We have also endorsed a new filing by Cliff Johnson in his
continuing legal campaign to have
launch-on- warning declared unconstitutional.

Other project areas have been gathering steam as well.
There is quite a bit of new activity in the
"computers and education" area. CPSR President Terry
Winograd is teaching (along with Helen
Nissenbaum) a course at Stanford on computers and ethics,
and a newsletter entitled "Ethics, Society &
Computers" was published in Palo Alto in April. The
Computers in the Workplace project is developing
plans for a conference in 1990 on participatory design, and
interest in this topic has spread beyond
Palo Alto to new computers in the workplace groups in
Berkeley and Madison. And the chapters have
also been rather busy on their own, as the new "Around the
Chapters" section reports.

in other news, elections for CPSR are now complete, and I
am happy to report the election of Ronni
Rosenberg from CPSR/Boston as the new Director-at-Large.
She will be joining the Board of Directors
at its summer meeting, along with new Northwest Regional
Director Douglas Schuler and Southern
Regional Director Ivan Milman. We welcome them all to the
Board. We also say goodbye to outgoing
directors Jonathan Jacky, David Bellin, Alan Cline, and
Karen Sollins. Because of work commitments,
Karen has resigned as New England Regional Representative,
and the Board is in the process of selecting
a replacement to complete her term.

Turning to the not-so-good news, the central problem for
CPSR continues to be the financial situation.
The renewal campaign brought in some much needed income
(with enormous thanks to everyone who
helped with the telephone reminders), but we still have
significant problems in both the short and long
term. Our cash reserve is quite low, and both Gary Chapman
and Marc Rotenberg are concentrating
their energies on fundraising, with the first priority
being to raise $15,000 to match a challenge
grant that we were awarded by the Stern Foundation. To be
eligible for the matching, donors must give
at least $500 and must indicate that it is intended to
match the Stern grant. If you know anyone who
might be able to make a donation at this level, please get
in touch with Gary at the National Office at
(415) 322-3778.

The National Office is also in the midst of staff
restructuring. For now, the most visible effect is that
Susan Lyon, who worked part-time as CPSR Director of
Communications since July 1988, is no longer
on the staff. In a joint decision, the CPSR Board and the
Executive Director determined that the critical
priority for the National Office is administrative
management, and that we need a full-time person for
that position. When our financial picture stabilizes and we
solve our immediate cash-flow problems,
we will advertise for a national office administrator, and
hope to fill that position by the fall. At the
same time, we also want to extend our thanks to Susan for
her work, particularly on the Annual Meeting
and the December membership appeal.

Call for Papers Directions and Implications of Advanced
Computing DIAC-90 Boston, MA July 28,1990

CPSR's third international research conference on the
social impact of information technologies will be
held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the American
Association for Artificial Intelligence, in
Boston on July 28, 1990.

Papers should address issues in research directions,
defense applications, computing in a democratic
society, or computers in the public interest. Papers on
ethics and values in computing are especially
welcome. Papers should be no longer than 6,000 words. The
papers are due in quadruplicate by March
1,1990. Send papers to Douglas Schuler, Boeing Computer
Services, MS 7L-64, P.O. Box 24346,
Seattle, WA 98124-0346. For more information, call Doug
Schuler at (206) 865-3226.


The CPSR Newsletter is published quarterly by:

Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility

P.O. Box 717

Palo Alto, CA 94301

(415) 322-3778

The purpose of the Newsletter is to keep members informed
of thought and activity in CPSR. We
welcome comments on the content and format of our
publication. Most especially, we welcome
contributions from our members. Deadline for submission to
the next issue is July 31, 1989.

This Newsletter was produced on an Apple Macintosh II,
using the desktop publishing program
Pagemaker 3.0 and Adobe Illustrator 88. The hardware and
software used were donated to CPSR by
Apple Computer, the Aldus Corporation, and Adobe Systems.
The Newsletter was typeset from a
Pagemaker file on a Linotronic 100.

Coming in Future Issues of the CPSR Newsletter

*Public policy and computer simluation

*Teaching International relations with computer games

*Who were the Luddites?

*Access to electronic information

*The state of CPSR

*Book reviews

*Washington Updates

The 1989 CPSR Annual Meeting October 20 and 21
Pan-American Health Organization Auditorium and The George
Washington University Washington, D.C.

Make plans to attend
Details of the meeting program will be mailed to all CPSR

Archived CPSR Information
Created before October 2004

Sign up for CPSR announcements emails


International Chapters -

> Canada
> Japan
> Peru
> Spain

USA Chapters -

> Chicago, IL
> Pittsburgh, PA
> San Francisco Bay Area
> Seattle, WA
Why did you join CPSR?

I support critical thinking--including ethical issues--when it comes to decisions about the use of technology. I want more people to have access to learn about technology. I would like to see resources go into finding and implementing technologies that provide the most public good.